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Davis, California

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Column: A pre-existing existence

Riddle me this! What do fat babies, rape victims and people who have been abused by a spouse all have in common? [Cue Jeopardy thinking song here.] Give up? They each can be denied health coverage because of their “pre-existing conditions.” Obesity, anti-HIV medication and post-traumatic stress disorder can all be considered pre-existing conditions, respectively.

Sorry, it wasn’t a fun riddle.

Health insurance companies have some nerve with the kinds of things they’ll deny people coverage for these days. The idea that a pre-existing condition can deny anyone coverage at all is contradictory in itself, but what qualifies as one is becoming incredibly more broad – and with that, more discriminatory.

Having a child who weighs in above what is known as the “95th percentile” for weight-height-age ratios can be denied coverage because “unfortunately, when we try to sell people insurance, a number has to be used as a cutoff,” according to Dr. Doug Speedle, medical director of Rocky Mountain Health Plans in Colorado.

A four-month old who weighed 17 pounds was denied coverage! Who doesn’t love a fat baby? Insurance companies, it would seem.

People with brown eyes are 80 percent more likely to have cataracts than those with lighter eyes, according to Apples For Health, a group of Australian researchers. I hope this doesn’t count as a pre-existing condition by the time I need to buy my own health insurance.

Life insurance companies also denied coverage to a woman from Florida who was drugged and raped in 2002. This was because she took precautions by taking anti-HIV medicine. The insurance companies said she must wait two or three years so she can prove that she doesn’t actually have HIV. She went seven years without any insurance until her husband’s job covered spouses.

Rape as a pre-existing condition is absurd. Insurance companies do not say straight out that rape is what is preventing victims’ coverage. They are making affected people choose between long-term health coverage or immediate and necessary precautions. What these private companies are doing is forcing victims of rape – who already face stigmas and difficulties seeking legal and medical help for what happened to them – to choose between being safe and being covered. Ironically, the two seem mutually exclusive to companies when it comes down to making a profit.

Women in Idaho, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming can also be denied coverage for being in abusive relationships, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

Good God. Apparently, the logic is if you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re more likely than the average person to continue to get into more abusive relationships. And that means you’ll need more coverage, which means more work, time and money spent by the insurance companies on you.

Without getting into a huge health care debate, let me say this: The few, the powerful and the rich get to decide who lives and ultimately who dies by having the discretion and ability to grant and deny people the opportunity to even buy health coverage.

Using latent terminology like “pre-existing conditions” allows these companies to pick and choose who will afford them the highest profit with the lowest cost while completely ignoring what is the purpose of an insurance company. The well being of people is undermined for the fiscal benefit of a few wealthy company owners that want to continue to expand when they already have so much.

Tupac puts it best when he says, “Through this suppression they punish the people that’s askin’ questions, and those that possess, steal from the ones without possessions.”

SARA KOHGADI hopes being an Afghan woman and a senior at UC Davis isn’t a pre-existing condition. Contact her at sbkohgadai@ucdavis.edu.


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